The makeover of Follett Corp. continues with the announcement that it has sold Baker & Taylor to a private investment company led by Aman Kochar, B&T CEO and president.
The deal includes all of B&T’s related businesses, which include Baker & Taylor Publisher Services, collectionHQ, Baker & Taylor UK, and James Bennett. All B&T top executives are making the transition to the new company as well.
Kochar said that his team is working with Follett to ensure a seamless transition for B&T’s customers, partners, and employees. “This is a pivotal and exciting time for Baker & Taylor. As an independent entity, we look forward to leading with our expertise and legacy and advancing our technology-based services and products,” Kochar said in a statement.
Follett acquired B&T, a major player in the library market, in April 2016 with the objective of building a company that could provide a range of print and digital content as well as technology and services to both public libraries, which would be served by B&T, and PreK-12 libraries, schools, and higher education institutions, served by Follett. Follett then pared back B&T's business in 2019 when it closed its retail wholesale business to focus on the library markets.
This September, hurt by the pandemic and a failed effort to expand into the school book fair market, Follett sold its K-12 software and content division, Follett School Solutions (FSS), to the investment firm Francisco Partners. FSS provides software and print and digital content products to K-12 schools; those products include Follett Destiny, a library management system.
The sale of B&T and FSS leaves Follett, which reported 2016 revenue of $3.6 billion, with just its higher education group, which operates online and retail campus stores.
During the Follett and Baker & Taylor 2021 Virtual Publisher Summit, held virtually last month, Kochar commented that the past year has been “a tale of two cities," for libraries, noting that in some ways a lot has changed, while in some ways nothing has changed.
“Strategically, nothing has changed because libraries continue to be that resource that people rely upon,” Kochar noted. “What has changed is the way they access the library, which is sitting at home. We’ve noticed a gradual uptick in libraries making not just their e-books available online, but also some of their programing. There is interest in continuing these service that were born out of a necessity during the pandemic—curbside pickups, sidewalk service, grab-and-go packs. They have become a convenience because they do solve a need for the general populace.”
Kochar acknowledged that the pandemic accelerated digital spending in libraries, with digital sales up roughly 15–20% from pre-pandemic levels, but said that trend is showing signs of leveling off.
“There’s been a general, gradual shift from print to digital that nobody can deny, but I think it has plateaued,” Kochar said. "While we’re not back to pre-pandemic levels, the good news is the rate of recovery is much faster. I think a lot of that has do with some ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funding, the IMLS [Institute of Museum and Library Services] federal funding that has a two-year year lifespan; and the tax dollars allocated after the stub year. All of those things have contributed to the rate of return to normalcy being accelerated.”